Review: Old Dog, New Tricks... The Magic Flute Plays Again At The ENO
You never really know what you’re going to get from Simon McBurney. For starters, not every opera director turns up to his latest ENO opening dressed in jeans, an anorak and a baseball cap.
This is the first revival of McBurney’s take on the Mozart classic since it made its ENO bow in 2013 and it still seems fresh and relevant. The direction is thankfully much tighter this time around and the lovers look like they may have more in common than the air they breathe. The early Abu Ghraib references may fly over people’s heads but the remainder of the material is either timeless or still contemporary (for example, the use of mobile devices by characters). The music sparkles throughout and conductor Mark Wigglesworth ensures that it loses none of its original whimsical tones.
The Magic Flute’s story could have tripped straight from the minds of the Grimm Brothers, such is its folkloric fairytale traits. Fleeing from a strange snake, a young man collapses and is surrounded by a trio of warrior women. The ladies fight each other over this stranger and strip him down to his underwear; one of them takes a peek beneath his briefs to check out what could perhaps be described as a boner of contention.
From there, the plot devolves into a search for love, truth and wisdom populated by a wise father figure, an evil crone and a male protagonist who wins the heart of a woman dressed in a virgin-white dress. Vive le patriarchy.
We could talk about how Allan Clayton and Lucy Crowe bring genuine charm and chemistry to their respective roles of Tamino and Pamina (something missing from their 2013 counterparts), or how James Creswell’s Sarastro has charisma to spare despite a hairdo flown in from 1972, but frankly the entire cast play second, third and fourth fiddle to the visuals.
And what visuals! From the grand spectacle of screen projections to the more intimate bunraku butterflies, McBurney's distinctive flair adds a cinematic feel. He allows the narrative to break the fourth wall, spilling into the audience and even (heaven forfend) enveloping those in the pit. While the purists may be horrified by what they may see as a wanton act of iconoclasm, those with a more flexible attitude to Wolfgang Amadeus’s oeuvre will revel in Finn Ross’s spellbinding video design and Michael Levine’s innovative set.
It might seem at times like an elaborate display of illusory smoke and mirrors but there’s no doubt that McBurney has made The Magic Flute magic again.
The Magic Flute continues at the London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, until 19 March. Tickets £12-£99. Londonist attended on a press ticket.
Last Updated 10 February 2016